MD's Business Acumen Grows Him a Small Empire

Ken Weiner, MD's Eating Recovery Center was named one of the fastest growing companies in America, which is likely because he and the executive team has as much business acumen as clinical expertise.

Ask Ken Weiner, MD, FAED, CEDS, about the most rewarding aspect of the work he does, and the answer sounds like something out of a MasterCard commercial.

“I create centers of excellence, I save lives, and it’s quite lucrative,” says Weiner, founding partner and chief executive officer for Eating Recovery Center. “That’s the best of all worlds.”

Weiner has dedicated his nearly 30-year career to understanding and developing effective treatment programs for eating disorders. He traces that highly successful career to an experience he had as an impressionable third-year medical school student at Montefiore Hospital in the Bronx. Working in pediatrics, a unit run by Preston Zucker — one of the foremost people in the world for treating children and adolescents with eating disorders — was eye-opening.

“Very often people with eating disorders are very bright, high-achieving, perfectionistic people with a lot of good cards in their hand; often from advantaged socio-economic families or at least, you know, have more opportunity than people with serious illness,” Weiner explains. “And so the question in my mind was why did they get so sick and have so much trouble getting better?”

His third-year experience left enough of an impression that when he finished training he and two other psychiatrists opened an outpatient center to treat people with eating disorders.

And he’s being treating them ever since.

Business experience

Weiner created and directed the Columbine Psychiatric Center Eating Disorders Program from 1988-1992; the Bethesda Eating Disorder Program from 1992-1998; and the Eating Disorder Center of Denver from 2002-2007. But it was the business experience he gained at Columbine that likely had the greatest impact on his career.

Weiner recalls that in the late 1980s a proliferation of for-profit systems sprung up in Colorado, and he was able to convince one hospital administrator of the need to create an eating disorders unit. He was told the hospital would own the unit, and he would serve as the director of the unit and be paid a salary — then came an interesting question.

“They asked what I wanted to do about the outpatient services; did I want to own them, or did I want the hospital to own them?” Weiner recalls. “I hadn’t really thought about it, but I told them I would own them. In hindsight, it was a critical decision, because I got to use my business brain as well as my clinical brain. When it came time to interface with the hospital and we would have a difference of opinion, the hospital had to listen to my opinion differently than if I had just been a hired employee.”

And Weiner put that business acumen to good use.

Premier facility

Weiner founded the Eating Recovery Center in October 2008 with five partners with diverse experience in eating disorders research, and diagnosis and treatment — but also with considerable business development and behavioral health care administration background.

He believes the center’s leadership team has as much business acumen as clinical expertise. And because the center is privately owned, Weiner and his executive team possess heightened decision-making autonomy and can act in the best interest of patients and their families.

“One of the advantages of being a physician administrator is that you have an acute appreciation; that there is never a conflict between quality of care and financial performance,” Weiner says. “So I will tell you that there is never a decision that we make at the Eating Recovery Center that is based on how much something costs. And step one is best care.”

He explains that, unfortunately, in the world of eating disorders there is substantial recidivism. Often patients have a serious illness that may occur at a developmental part of their life when they’re not ready to or able to get well. As such, many patients often need more than one course of treatment.

“We want to make absolutely sure that people who need a second course of care want to come back because this is the best care,” Weiner says. “We don’t try to be all things to all people. Our mission is to take care of people with serious eating disorders. And if you live that credo, at the end of the day your business is really very successful.”

More than just successful

The Eating Recovery Center was recently ranked number 1,102 on the 2013 Inc. 5000 List of America’s fastest growing companies — no small surprise. Consider that in five years, the center has grown from a 12-bed/12 partial hospitalization slot adult behavioral hospital with 40 employees to an eight-facility hospital network in Denver, California and Washington with 392 employees.

“We had a vision from day one, adapted over time, of course,” Weiner explains. “And 28 family, friends and colleagues from around the country shared the vision. I will tell you that we have a lot of happy family and friends now, and a lot of people who wish they had seen things differently back in 2008. What we’ve done, I think, is capture the high ground with clinical excellence and clinical expertise.”

And Weiner doesn’t plan to ease up. He plans to partner with or to acquire an eating disorders treatment center each year for the next five years in order to make comprehensive services more available for patients across the country. Under this five-year plan, Weiner expects revenue to triple.

Entrepreneurship, of course, takes time — a lot of hours. That doesn’t leave much time for anything else.

“Golf is one of my passions, and travel with my family,” Weiner explains. “But I can’t tell you I’m a guy with a lot of hobbies.”

Still, he wouldn’t have it any other way.

“As I’ve looked at transition in my life — because I’m in my early 60s — I still have a lot of energy, some tread on the tire,” Weiner says. “Because I reinvented myself five years ago, I’m not shutting down my practice and going into retirement. I have a whole new career in front of me. That is stimulating to wake up to every day. What a gift.”